E-books… meet thy digital saviour?

This is a brief follow-up post to my last one. Among the comments the previous article received, were, “Has that friend of yours ever considered e-book publishing directly?” The polite comments in this vein are now sitting under the article. The deranged ‘YOU HAVE DISSED ME AND EVERY AUTHOR BY FAILING TO MENTION EBOOKS ONCE EVEN THOUGH THIS WAS NOTHING TO DO WITH EBOOKS I HOPE YOU BURN IN HELL YOU ELITIEST SCUMBAG’-type comments, sadly, didn’t make it past my fascist tendencies to pop the fouler-smelling bubbles that rise out of the internet cess-pit.

Yep, I authorize ever single comment that does/doesn’t make it onto my blog. Feel free to disagree with me… but doing it rudely and in the digital equivalent of crayon scribbles on pink paper will not make the cut. At least not here. Feel free to wipe the drool off your lips and be as rude as you like about me on your Twitter/Facebook account (hey, like you need my permission, right).

So, here in brief, are my thoughts on how the publishing industry works now. I have nothing against e-books – I have a couple of series of e-book novellas and early works released by myself in this fashion, floating around in the cyber sphere – and I applaud the freedom it gives any author to bypass the bandwidth restrictions of the old crapshoot of getting published. But as a path to earning enough money to sustain even the kind of poorly paid full-time writing career you used to get as a mid-list author in the Ancien Régime? Well, you might get lucky. And you can certainly work harder on promotion and marketing and polishing your writing, getting a little luckier the harder you work and the better the quality of your wordage. You might win the lottery too. Easier if you’ve bought a ticket.

Here’s the rub… the bandwidth restrictions and the statistical near-impossibility of getting a book read and accepted in the old days (you know, when Penguin received 100,000 unsolicited manuscripts a year in the SFF/H genres, of which they could maybe select two or three totally new authors to publish each year), they haven’t gone away. They’ve just shifted. They’ve moved from harassed test readers/agents kept by the publishing houses who would skim the first page of your MS before unfairly filing it in the form-rejection pile, to harassed Kindle(*) customers who are staring at web pages with hundreds of thousands of new e-books, most by authors they’re totally unfamiliar with, downloading free e-books or sample chapters, before sifting for the ones that match their taste/standards enough to be considered keepers.

When your authorly competition is everyone in the world with a PC and a copy of Microsoft Word, standing in that infinitely long hiring line and trusting it’s your book that is going to be the next Harry Potter/Wool/Fifty Shades of Grey is quite an act of faith. It always was in the old world, too. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, baby. It’s still as difficult as fuck. It just a different kind of difficult as fuck. And frankly, anyone who tells you different is usually trying to sell you $300 writing courses, e-books with titles like ‘You too can be an e-book billionaire’, or a thousand REAL followers for your author’s FaceBook page who all seem, curiously, to be based in Turkey and Russia.

This state of affairs hasn’t gone unnoticed by Amazon, who don’t care a whit about writers (at least, not the ones they haven’t signed to their in-house labels), but who do care a hell of a lot about their customer experience. Especially if it’s millions of Kindle readers refusing to buy books because they’ve now got an unlimited supply of free ones. Hence why most of Amazon’s tweaks now aim to stiff indies – aka strangling the affiliate income of any site that aims to address Kindle’s awful discovery issues by compiling charts of the BEST FREE KINDLE E-BOOKS. GET A FINE FREE E-BOOK A DAY. Or tweaking their sales algorithm to hobble the appearance of indie books in the charts, while flattering the (reassuringly over-priced) works of the Ancien Régime.

E-books... meet thy digital saviour?

Also reads… Angry Birds?

So, to sum up. We’ve moved from a situation where there was a queue the size of the planet standing outside a really exclusive nightclub where you had to be incredibly hot and lucky to get in (and even then, you’d usually spend between ten and twenty years working on your make-up and desperately waiting outside for just the sniff of entry… took me fifteen). Everyone hated the bouncers and most everyone felt jealous of those who got in. Instead, we’ve traded that for a MMO-sized Hunger Games where instead of twenty-four combatants, we’ve got twenty-four million engaged in the world’s largest knife fight… and only a couple are going to walk away with the real prizes. Jeff Bezos is the President Snow character in this metaphor, BTW. He’s grinning at you with a camcorder while you work out how to stick a shiv into me.

I could go on in a lot more detail about this subject, but let’s just say that when it comes to the indie pubbed e-book/POD holy wars, I’m an agnostic. If it works, it works. It is what it is. My best advice to any new author would be to blend both the old printed world and the new direct-to-digital systems and see what happens when you shake the tree. Just remember, publishing is an industry, not a religion. But boy, do you still need faith (and now, more than ever, don’t give up the day job).

Now, before we part, allow me to point you in the direction of writer Chuck Wendig’s latest post, and tease you with his intro…

This is something I see often enough: an author talks about losing a series or having some difficulties with a publisher or whatever, and someone from the crowd eventually says, “You should self-publish. We want more of you, the money’s better, we’ll support you. Plus, so many options! Amazon! Kickstarter! Bookflipper! Pub-Burger!” Sometimes it’s a polite suggestion, sometimes it’s double-barrel proselytization and they start spouting off “facts and figures” along with a dose of venom against the oppression of the traditional system.

Like, what Chuck said, dude.

* I’m using Kindle as short-hand, here. I know about Kobo, SmashWords, CreateSpace, OnceWasPaper, etc etc. I embrace them… I embrace you, brothers and sisters. Much love… even to the crayon chompers currently filling my comments queue with missives about why my use of the word ‘indie publisher’ deeply offends their sub-sect in some heretical manner and I must DIE DIE DIE.

E-book Cornucopia… enough room in this arena for everyone.

7 Responses to “E-books… meet thy digital saviour?”

  1. Karen
    February 28, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

    Well, let me just say that I, for one, am extremely grateful that you persevered through your fifteen years of “working on your make-up and desperately waiting outside for just the sniff of entry” because I have thoroughly enjoyed all your Jackelian books, your Sliding Void series, and the Agatha Witchley series, and am anxiously awaiting whatever you publish next. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy as a teenager (several decades ago), and then I got bored with it; all those elves, all that sword and sorcery. I found The Court of the Air in an independent bookstore in the US that had imported it from England before it was released here, and I just loved it. And it has inspired me to get back into searching out unusual fantasy/science fiction and so I’ve not only really enjoyed your books, but have found a number of other series I love. So thank you, and however bad publishing gets, remember that you have a lot of fans who really appreciate what you write.

  2. Stephen
    February 28, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    Very kind of you to say so, Karen. I’ll try and make my next blog a little more happy sounding and less moaning in your honour… after all, writing for money isn’t why anyone does it (although the folding green is always welcome when/if it arrives).

    We write because we’re driven to. We write for our readers… when we’re lucky enough to have them.

  3. Zara
    February 28, 2013 at 11:27 pm #

    Kinda on the fence on this to be honest. I have found some real gems in the free kindle/ not published works, in terms of the non traditional fantasy stuff that I like. However, the 50 shades of grey phenomenon proves that you need very little talent to become a success in this format. Kinda wish all those 50 shades folks could be forced down the Chatterly, Bovary and Flanders direction instead!

  4. Elsi
    March 9, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

    While I have picked up some absolutely *awful* freebies, there have been some gems from authors I had never heard of before reading a free book. And, I do have to admit that I was introduced to you and your books through your free Sliding Void novella which I picked up at Amazon. I quickly moved on to Transference Station and I’m anxiously waiting for the next installment.

    While I wait, I have the omnibus edition of your Six Against the Stars duology queued up on my Kindle. I’m not much of a fantasy or steampunk fan — so far — so I’ll hold off on the rest of your books for now.

  5. Stephen
    March 9, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

    Hi Elsi

    Glad to hear the ebooks are tickling you, anyhow.

    The 3rd one in the Sliding Void series have hit the virtual streets now, ‘Red Sun Bleeding’ over at http://www.amazon.com/Bleeding-Novella-Sliding-science-ebook/dp/B00BQJDLH8/ and http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bleeding-Novella-Sliding-science-ebook/dp/B00BQJDLH8/

    My Jackelian books are a bit of an oddity, as they’re a fantasy/science fiction mash-up, which means you can love them/hate them for being what they are, as the rather polarized reviews prob. demonstrate :@)

  6. C.k.
    April 10, 2013 at 11:53 pm #

    Hello, was just curious if “Red Sun Bleeding” is available in .epub format or not?
    I have really enjoyed your books and just started the Sliding Void series and am bummed that I can’t find the 3rd book to read on my Nook.

    - C.k.

  7. Stephen
    April 12, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    It will be shortly, C.K. – currently it’s on the exclusive amazon tie-in program for the first 3 months.

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